Sometimes when I see a news story or read history, I wonder why anyone is motivated to write fiction. The real world is so interesting, and sometimes so strange, the stories are right there already. Do we really need to create new characters and imaginary events and situations?
Of course, many works that are considered fiction draw from real life. The title character of The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James is commonly known to be informed by his relationships with a sister and a cousin. Many other characters in his fiction are recognizable as real people. Detailed descriptions of actual rooms of homes appear in a fictitious context.
When I wrote my first book of fiction, someone who knows me well commented, “Well, looks like you put about half your life in that one.” Few people would have known that, but how far can we go with such a truth? Is there really such a thing as fiction? Is everything we write a form of autobiography?
Another way to think about this is to consider the artistic concept of surrealism. In the most popular definition of surrealism, this involves creating art through the juxtaposition of what seems like irrational images that bubble up from the unconscious mind. But the unconscious mind is still you. These images are from you.
Can we transpose this dynamic to the writer of fiction? Perhaps unaware we rewrite our own story? In our writing we go back and choose the road not taken in our “real” life? Maybe through made up characters we are expressing our own emotions, or releasing hidden exultations, hopes, fears, hates, and loves and we call it fiction.
Is putting it on the page not the same as owning it, either as a wish or a fear? Could we call this an accusation from the unconscious mind, or even a guilty plea? Whatever you create, is it not you?
I read. I write. I learn. I’m in a writing group and I have four published books. I’m still pretty sure I’m not Steinbeck, but my heart and soul have found their way back to where they should be.